5 Top Tips for creating inclusive presentations

For presentations to be part of truly inclusive teaching practice they need to be created with an eye on accessibility. This post will outline some things you can do to make your presentations in lectures, seminars, meetings and conferences accessible to all.

1. Choose a presentation tool that will help you make your slides accessible.

Not all presentation tools are equally good for inclusivity. The following tips will look at specific aspects of presentations and some tools will not let you do these things easily.

PowerPoint has been around for a long time and some poor use of the tool has led to criticisms, but it has some great features to help you make your presentations accessible. Some newer tools such as Prezi, Haiku Deck and Adobe Spark offer some exciting visual features, but do not always have the accessibility options that are desirable. For example, Prezi suggests adding voice overs, creating a PDF version or recording a video screencast to make a Prezi accessible.

Accessible U (University of Minnesota) recommends that you choose presentation software that allows you to:

  • use pre-defined slide layouts
  • add alternative text to images
  • rearrange and reorder content, so you can control the order in which a screen reader will read it

(https://accessibility.umn.edu/tutorials/presentations  accessed 21/5/2018)

PowerPoint and Google Slides both meet these criteria.

2. Use an accessible theme and pre-defined layouts.

If you use pre-defined slide layouts rather than adding your own text boxes your presentation is much more likely to be accessible. PowerPoint and Google Slides both have a range of themes that will create easy to read slides.

In PowerPoint, choose a theme from the Design tab. Then as you add slides you can choose from a selection of layouts. Microsoft also provide a sample of the most popular Accessible PowerPoint Templates fully optimized for use by people with visual disabilities.

PowerPoint Design options

PowerPoint slide layouts

Microsoft provide additional guidance on how to make your PowerPoint presentations accessible including using the Office accessibility checker.

Check Accessibility in Office

Google Slides has a selection of ready-made themes to help you make your Google  document or presentation accessible and the ‘Explore’ tool, which will take your content and suggest a better slide design. Just click on the Explore icon at the bottom of the screen and choose from the alternatives suggested. Using Google's Explore tool

3. Add alternative text to images.

PowerPoint and Google Slides both allow you to add alternative text to images so that screen readers can convey to users what is in the image. Try to make this text as descriptive as possible. If the contents of the image is very complex and important to the understanding of the presentation you may want to find an alternative way of presenting the information.

To add alt-text in PowerPoint, right-click the image, choose Format Picture and Alt Text.

add Alt Text in PowerPoint

As you will want to use this feature whenever you are adding images to presentations, you will probably want to add it to the Quick Access Toolbar.

In Google Slides, right-clicking on an image will bring up a range of options including ‘Alt text’. You can also access that with the keyboard shortcut Ctrl-Alt-Y.

add Alt Text in Google Slides

4. Make sure the content is in the right order for screen-readers.

When there are several elements on a slide it may seem obvious which order they should be read in, but screen readers will usually read them in the order you added them, rather than in the order that makes sense!

You can set the reading order in PowerPoint using the Arrange tool, which you can access on the Home tab under Drawing. Choose ‘Selection’ and then drag and drop the elements into the right order. As you click on each element in the Selection window it will be highlighted on your slide, so you can easily see what needs to be moved.set the reading order in PowerPointChanging the order is not quite as easy in Google Slides. You need to use the tab key to check the order in which elements would be read. To adjust the order, go to the Arrange tab, select Order and ‘send backward’ or ‘bring forward’ to move items up or down in the reading order.  

5. Share your presentation in advance.

It is good practice to share the slides in advance of your presentation as this gives learners the opportunity to get a sense of the content before the presentation. During the session they may want to make notes on the slides.

Lecture slides can be uploaded to Study Direct (for 17/18) or Canvas (the new VLE from 2018/19) for students to access. Students will also be able to share presentation slides they have created with a group in Canvas.



Google Slides

Accessible Slide Presentations (10 videos from Accessible U at the University of Minnesota https://accessibility.umn.edu/)


Canvas Training

Places are filling up fast on our Canvas Fundamentals training workshops. We strongly encourage all Sussex academic staff to sign up for a place. Attending the workshop will familiarise you with Canvas and your options for teaching with the new VLE. It also gives you access to your migrated modules from 17/18.

Professional Services staff are also welcome to book a place on this workshop.

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Introducing Cadence, a new learning technology created by a @SussexUni student

Jade Gidney is a final year BSc Product Design student at the University of Sussex. For her final project she created her own learning technology to try to track student engagement, we interviewed her to find out more about her product.

Jade Gidney

Jade Gidney

Could you tell us a bit about the Design Project module?

You start the project at the end of your second year or at the end of your placement year. And you’re supposed to know a broad idea of what you want to study. Then you come into your final year and you do an unmarked presentation straightaway, presenting to all of the potential supervisors. So then in your first term, that’s when you are doing all of your research and ideation and preliminary testing, when you’re going big with your ideas and ‘what if?’ questions.

Over Christmas, which is probably for me when the project really grounded itself and started to take shape for me, that’s when you are making more models and getting into the three dimensional world as opposed to just working on paper. The next term is when you are testing your final product and making sure that it works, that it looks good. This is all building up the the Design Show which is a week long exhibition. On the Thursday of that week you have your final presentation which counts towards your dissertation. Then on the Friday it is much more relaxed and chilled and is when you actually get to celebrate the work you’ve been doing for the whole year.

And what is your project?

It is a device, Cadence, that students can fidget with during their lectures and it’s essentially a ball that rolls around an infinite amount of times. The lecturer can then see information on the number of students interacting with the device. There are a lot of studies that suggest that fidgeting is a sign that our minds are starting to wander and we’re becoming disengaged. So if a lecturer knows how many students are becoming disengaged then they can do something about it instead of just continuing their lecture with an unengaged audience.

When lecturers first heard about the project, a lot of them were just like ‘I don’t know if I want to know how many students are engaged or not’. One thing that I want to iterate is that fidgeting and disengagement is natural, it’s a natural part of human nature and that’s not a bad thing, it’s part of how we deal with things. The unnatural thing is trying to sustain focus for hours and that is something that has been happening in lectures. Lectures haven’t changed that much in the last 50 years yet technology is enhancing so many things. So this isn’t to tell lecturers that they are a bad lecturer, it’s not to tell them that they’re boring. It is basically to give them an informed decision on when they should change the pace of their lecturer, which is something that most lecturers are already doing, they’re already asking student questions and introducing group tasks, it’s just informing them of when the best time to do that is.

Cadence on a desk

What were the motivations behind that project?

I did my internship in packaging design and that was really what I wanted to do when I came into my final year. So I gave my first presentation on that, the preliminary unmarked one, and the lecturers said to me ‘you’re not going to get the most out of your degree if you do this because there’s not much technical side to it’. I was still pretty determined that I wanted to do that but after hearing that I tailored it slightly and altered it and started looking into the packaging design of coffee cups. I was think about designing a new biodegradable material, something like that. Then I was looking at alternative uses for coffee cups as well as how people interact with them during their lectures and I started to notice that people would fidget with them and tear them apart. So that’s when I started looking into fidgeting in lecture halls and what that means and how it relates to engagement. So it was a very wonky route and I had to do a lot of catch up work in my first term.

Who did you collaborate with?

Quite a lot of people. Obviously this project is designed at students and lecturers so I have the student side down and I understand the mindset of students. To understand the lecturers’ side I collaborated with a number of lecturers including Dr Carlos Sato, Lecturer in Management; Dr Carole Becker, Teaching Fellow (Mathematics); Dr Kingsley Sage, Teaching Fellow in Computing Sciences; Dr Blay Whitby, Teaching Fellow in Engineering; and Dr Ronald Grau,Teaching Fellow in Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence. So those were the main people that I got information from to try to understand how they monitor student engagement already. I also sent out questionnaires to lecturers which were really useful.

As well as this I’ve been collaborating with Psychologists because I know I can do the product design side of things, but this project related a lot to attention so I’ve been working with Dr Sophie Forster, Lecturer In Psychology, who is a researcher in mind wandering and attention. I was working with her firstly to understand as much as I could about fidgeting and engagement. I’ve also had a meeting with Dr Harry Witchel, Senior Lecturer in Physiology, who is a neuroscientist to find out more about engagement. George Robinson in the Technology Enhanced Learning Office was also helpful. Obviously TEL focus on subtle ways to integrate technologies into lecture halls, so having meetings with him was really useful to understand how you can go about integrating technologies into lecture halls because it’s all very nice saying I want to put them in a lecture hall but if you don’t know how it’s going to get there then it is a bit redundant.

Cadence being used in a lecture

Jade will be graduating from the University of Sussex in July, after graduating she intends to move to New Zealand due to the number of programmes and initiatives that they offer for women in engineering.

Contact TEL

We are keen to showcase the great work of both staff and students at the University of Sussex, if you would like to share the work of your students or any innovative teaching practices please get in touch by emailing tel@sussex.ac.uk.


Canvas Training

Places are filling up fast on our Canvas Fundamentals training workshops. We strongly encourage all Sussex academic staff to sign up for a place. Attending the workshop will familiarise you with Canvas and your options for teaching with the new VLE. It also gives you access to your migrated modules from 17/18.

Professional Services staff are also welcome to book a place on this workshop.

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Posted in Case Study


This week we are introducing a fabulous social media tool, Instagram.

Instagram is a social media app which allows users to share images and video clips. As social media sites like Facebook (which its worth noting is the parent company which owns Instagram) continue to fall in terms of use amongst younger users apps such as Instagram are thriving particularly amongst the 16-24 age group and so can be a good way of engaging and communicating with students in a format they find engaging and relatable.

Instagram allows you to:

  • Upload images onto your account and share them with other users.
  • Comment on other users’ posts and comments.
  • Use Instagram Stories which are short video clips or images that you can annotate with text, drawings or other visual content.
  • Follow hashtags on certain topics and trends.
  • Follow other Instagram users and tag them in your content.
  • Livestream yourself and allow other users to co-livestream with you at the same time using the “Live” feature.
  • Post questions on your Stories that your followers can respond to. 

Information on how to create and set up your account can be found on the Instagram help site.

annotated image in Instagram

annotated image in Instagram

Is it free?

Instagram is completely free. You will simply need to download the app and then create an account either using an existing email address or a Facebook account .

Will it work on my device?

Instagram works on Android and iOS. It is also possible to view Instagram images on web browsers, but web users cannot upload content.

Where can I get the app?

Google Play (for Android)

iTunes (for ipad/iphone)

Ideas for using Instagram in learning and teaching

  • Use  to collectively build a visual resource around a topic. You could use a hashtag to collect posts together, or create a group conversation to share and comment on posts.
  • Use the Stories sticker feature to create polls.
  • Create role-playing learning scenarios where students put themselves in the place of others and try to work out what sort of content they’d post, taking on the role of a famous historical or fictional literary figure for example.


If you would like help with using Instagram or to discuss how this or any other digital tools could help you in your teaching or learning please get in touch with the TEL team.


Canvas Training

Places are filling up fast on our Canvas Fundamentals training workshops. We strongly encourage all Sussex academic staff to sign up for a place. Attending the workshop will familiarise you with Canvas and your options for teaching with the new VLE. It also gives you access to your migrated modules from 17/18.

Professional Services staff are also welcome to book a place on this workshop.

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Posted in Active learning, App review, Social media

Canvas news: May update

Canvas Update
The implementation of Canvas continues to progress well and training for staff is well underway.  Since our last update in early April bookings to attend Canvas Fundamentals workshops have been flooding in.  The demand has been such that Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) are now running a minimum of 3 sessions every week with dates currently available through to the 12th of July.  As of this update a total of 182 staff have attended training on the new VLE: 165 colleagues from across the University’s Schools of Study and 17 Professional Services staff. A further 238 colleagues are booked on future sessions through May and June. 

Canvas Fundamentals Training - Attendees. B MEc 24, E S W 8, Engineering and Informatics 17, English 17, Global Studies 17, H A H P 7, L P S 8, Life Sciences 26, M P S 14, M F M 13, Psychology 14, Professional Services 17

Feedback on the workshop, and on Canvas itself, has been overwhelmingly positive with colleagues from across the institution enthused by the new teaching and learning opportunities afforded by the new VLE:

“A much more versatile VLE with lots of opportunities to encourage student interaction and formative assessment – I’m excited to get cracking!”

“From what I’ve seen today I think the new VLE will be more intuitive. Particularly the possibility to drag and drop will make my life a lot easier!”

“This is an interesting platform and interface – I’m keen to not just translate what I have previously used on Study Direct, but rather find new ways of presenting the courses that enhance the learning experience.”

“Takes a bit of learning, but once you get used to the new system it’s a lot less clunky that study direct – smoother, faster and much nicer interface – just a bit tricky getting used to working with different kinds of bricks as it were.”

The feedback has also included lots of useful suggestions for further training and guidance which would help staff enhance the look and feel of sites within Canvas and to understand how to take advantage of the new functionality within the VLE.  We’ll be reviewing this feedback within TEL and considering how we can best support staff to achieve their goals.

Migration Update

Now that term has finished, work to migrate the Spring and Autumn-Spring 17/18 module sites from Study Direct to Canvas is underway.  Some 1260 modules will be exported from Study Direct and transferred to Canvas where they will be reviewed by the Learning Technologists in TEL to ensure content has moved over successfully.  This is a considerable amount of work and will take time. We’ll provide information on our progress in our June project update.

Communication and engagement

Members of the project team have been providing briefings on the rollout of Canvas to staff and students at every opportunity including School Teaching and Learning Committees, Departmental meetings and Boards of Study.  Working with the Internal Communications team, updates have been published on the University’s Staff and Student web pages, while training opportunities for staff have also been publicised on digital screens across campus.  Learning Technologists from TEL ran two workshops at the recent University Teaching and Learning Conference, to help staff think about how Canvas might be used to enhance feedback to students. We’re also continuing to post regular updates to this blog, providing information on how the project is progressing and showcasing some of the exciting features in our new VLE.  To make sure you don’t miss out on these posts you can enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and have posts sent directly to your inbox.

Canvas Training

We strongly encourage all Sussex academic staff to sign up for a place on our Canvas Fundamentals training workshops. Attending the workshop will familiarise you with Canvas and your options for teaching with the new VLE. It also gives you access to your migrated modules from 17/18. Demand for the spaces has been incredibly high, and the workshops have been filling up quickly. We are doing everything we can to schedule additional dates and our booking page is being updated daily. Please do let us know if you are having difficulty finding a place.

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Posted in Canvas, Technology Enhanced Learning

Shared Realities: Why Augmented Reality is about to make its dent in the educational universe.

Shared Realities

As immersive technology continues to evolve at a very rapid pace, so too do billion dollar companies, their shareholders’ returns relying on the ‘next big thing’. Facebook, Google, Apple, Microsoft, Lenovo and many more are falling over each other to give us updates and announcements at their various conferences with a fierce pace. The technology changes fast, and as it does we are presented with new ways of interacting with the world around us. Advertising, marketing and gaming are leading the way in this,  but what about education? In this post we’ll take a look at what’s happening with Augmented Reality (AR) and what the potential impact may be on education.

What is Augmented Reality (AR)?

Augmented reality or AR is the name given to the concept of overlaying the real world with digital content or information, viewed through a headset or mobile device. Since it does involve the real world you are by the very nature less removed than you would be in Virtual Reality (VR).

The current state of AR?

Although you can share a screen with friends and colleagues, AR experiences are still a very individual activity. For example if you’ve used a Hololens from Microsoft, you’ll likely have had the experience of snapping your finger and thumb together to fend off an alien invasion or select menu items. To you, seeing the overlay, this is fairly normal behaviour, but to an observer (even ignoring the headset) your behaviour is a little peculiar and removed from their viewpoint of the environment.

Take a walk around any education trade show and you’ll see a lot of immersive technology, headsets everywhere. (Despite being a year old, this article gives a good overview), with companies working to create virtual labs, virtual lectures and virtual tours. For example Microsoft has focused on what it’s calling Mixed Reality and Prezi has plans for Augmented Reality. Each of these remain an individual experience: whilst you might share some content to someone else, you can’t yet easily stand side by side and interact with the same digital content in real time. Before we look to what’s coming, take a look at some of the AR apps that are available now.


HP Reveal. Poster from Discover Campus as part of Digital Discovery Week.

JigSpace on iOS

What’s next for AR?

For me the crux of why there is still no ‘killer application’ for education, is simply that VR and AR are not yet a fully social experience (with those in the same room as you). You may all be in a room together, but you are experiencing and interacting with the content individually. 

Shared AR could  kickstart some incredible apps for education. One can imagine a scenario  in which students or tutors with individual devices can interact with the real world and the real people around them, at the same time as interacting with a digital world through their devices. Perhaps the tutor can explore the inner workings of a combustion engine whilst showing an exploded view that students are able to see in 3D, spinning  the model around in real time on their own devices.

JigSpace is an example of such a tool, yet currently it only offers an individual experience. Imagine a student presentation in which they show a 3D model of a historical artefact and the audience can see it right there in front of them through their devices, see the presenters indicate certain areas,  mark up the space, and walk around the digital object.

Who is doing what to make this happen?

Marketing departments and film franchises are leading the way – for example,  Star Wars: Jedi Challenges has a 2 player lightsaber mode (I know, right?). At Google’s I/O event last week, they announced a slew of new tools, including a framework for developers to create shared AR experiences – truly shared, collaborative and tangible experiences.

There are a few indicators that suggest to me we are on the cusp of seeing great potential from AR:

  1. Apple has doubled down on an augmented future and they are in a position to create, shape and disrupt entire industries. You can bet that if Apple does shared AR properly it will impact us all, particularly as they’ll likely target education.
  2. Shared experiences are possible and developers have their hands on these tools right now.
  3. With 5G around the corner, real time collaboration will no longer be hampered by lag and slow network speed. 5G is going to change how we work together.

We’d love to know your thoughts on AR and whether it has a future in education. As the technology evolves, what opportunities does it present for assessment, collaboration, story telling and sharing of ideas?

If you’re interested in immersive technologies, look out for our Expanding Reality workshops in the next academic year. In these sessions we get hands on with a range of immersive technologies. To find out more please contact us. tel@sussex.ac.uk

Further links

Shared AR expereinces from Google

Google Chrome AR


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Posted in AR/VR/360

Canvas Know-how 1: Combining content on a single Canvas page.

Canvas Know-how - Combining content on a single page
When your module content is migrated to Canvas it will be displayed slightly differently to the way it looked in Study Direct. The two VLEs have different approaches to organising content, so you will a best fit interpretation of your Study Direct site, rather than how you might have organised things if you started from scratch in Canvas.

Your Study Direct site will have displayed a mix of items on a single section / page whereas, during the migration, by default Canvas will have recreated them as separate items on their own pages, grouped into “Modules” (the term used for sections of content in Canvas, not to be confused with the overall Sussex Module).

If you want to have a page with mixed content you can combine the elements into a single Canvas Page by adding text, files and links to other parts of the Course.

A Page in Canvas with files and links

Add files and links to other elements by following these steps:

  • Position your cursor where you want the item to appear [1].
  • Choose the tab for Links, Files or Images [2].
  • When you choose the Links tab you will see lists of all the other parts of your Course, including Pages, Discussions, Announcements [3]
  • Click on the item you want to link to and it will appear on your page.
  • If you want to add several elements to your page just keep repeating this process.


Adding files and links to a Page.

You can make your Page more visually appealing by adding one or more images.

Page with image, files and links.

This will allow you to greatly simplify how the Canvas Course appears for students. You could even have just one Module in your Canvas Course, with weekly or topic-focused Pages.

One Module with weekly or topic-focused Pages.

Canvas Training

We strongly encourage all Sussex academic staff to sign up for a place on our Canvas Fundamentals training workshops. Attending the workshop will familiarise you with Canvas and your options for teaching with the new VLE. It also gives you access to your migrated modules from 17/18. Demand for the spaces has been incredibly high, and the workshops have been filling up quickly. We are doing everything we can to schedule additional dates and our booking page is being updated daily. Please do let us know if you are having difficulty finding a place.

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Posted in Canvas, Learning Design, Technology Enhanced Learning

Specialism Based Learning – Podcast S02 E03

Sussex TEL: Teaching with Tech S02 E03 – Specialism Based Learning with Professor Lynne Murphy

In this episode, we focus on how to train learners as researchers by making them specialists on a sub-topic within their discipline. This approach is simple but effective. Start by dividing aspects of the subject you are teaching into sub-topics or research areas. Each student is assigned one of these to pursue as a personal research project throughout the module, compiling a portfolio of their reflections and findings along the way. Their final portfolio submission demonstrates an application of the general content studied (common to all students) to their specific research area (unique to them).

Tab Betts talks to Professor Lynne Murphy (Linguistics, University of Sussex) and Dr. Paolo Oprandi (Senior Learning Technologist, University of Sussex). Lynne has recently published a book, entitled The Prodigal Tongue, which explores the love-hate relationship between British and American English. Paolo has recently joined our team in Technology Enhanced Learning at the University of Sussex, after working as an E-learning Developer in IT Services.


Professor Lynne Murphy
– Lynne Murphy at the University of Sussex (www.sussex.ac.uk/profiles/115259)
– Lynne Murphy on Twitter (twitter.com/lynneguist)
– Lynne Murphy’s latest book: The Prodigal Tongue (theprodigaltongue.com/)
– Lynne Murphy’s Blog: Separated by a Common Language (separatedbyacommonlanguage.blogspot.co.uk/)

Dr. Paolo Oprandi
– Paolo Oprandi at the University of Sussex (www.sussex.ac.uk/profiles/125778)
– Paolo Oprandi on Twitter (twitter.com/paolo_oprandi)

Canvas Training

Places are filling up fast on our Canvas Fundamentals training workshops. We strongly encourage all Sussex academic staff to sign up for a place. Attending the workshop will familiarise you with Canvas and your options for teaching with the new VLE. It also gives you access to your migrated modules from 17/18.

Professional Services staff are also welcome to book a place on this workshop.

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Posted in Learning Design, Podcast

Providing a deeper, blended learning experience: A case study into use of an interactive e-textbook

Are you a tutor who would like to further enhance your students’ engagement with your module? Are you using the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) to its full potential or the opportunities that e-textbooks can bring?

In the TEL team we recognise that your VLE module site can be understood to be a module-specific textbook that provides engaging online texts and activities that support your face-to-face teaching. If used to a deeper level, particularly with functions that will be available on Canvas, the VLE platform we will be delivering in September 2018, it can also be used as an interactive tool delivering personalised learning content to your students according to their needs. It can be the online space that blends your teaching with an online space for students to “self-regulate their learning” (see Nicol & Macfarlane-Dick 2007). However, this requires some work on your part and you may prefer to use an interactive e-textbook that has already been created.

In this blog post, I talk about what an “interactive e-textbook” is, highlight their importance in supporting blended learning in your teaching, report back on a case study of an academic here at Sussex University who has used an off-the-shelf interactive e-textbook to provide his students with a deeper, blended learning experience and conclude by providing you with options of how you could enhance the blended learning opportunities on a module that you are teaching by using an e-textbook or creating a similar interactive resource in the VLE.

Interactive e-textbooks

Are you an academic uses textbooks to support their teaching? If you do, or you are considering it, you may want to explore the possibility of providing your textbook online. There are many advantages to providing your textbook online, many of which are outlined in our previous post: Ebooks – what’s not to love.  Additionally, many providers of ebooks will personalise them for your module by collating chapters from different books and a few provide your students with an interactive experience.

Interactive e-textbooks provide much more than just text or even text with end-of-chapter questions, they can provide you, as a tutor, with a complete “interactive” curriculum. Its interactive because the e-textbook stores data on the students, including what chapters they have read, what questions they have answered, how they answered them and so on. According to the data the e-textbook has about the student, it adjusts content appropriately and flags areas that might be of interest giving them.

"The unbound book conference" flickr photo by networkcultures https://flickr.com/photos/networkcultures/5737035678 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

“The unbound book conference” flickr photo by networkcultures https://flickr.com/photos/networkcultures/5737035678 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

E-textbook can be bought, but you can also recreate many of their features through the VLE. One way to use interactive online tools in your teaching is to provide your students with a deeper, blended learning experience.

Blended Learning

Blended learning may sound like a buzzword from the noughties, but to us in Technology Enhanced Learning it is as relevant as ever. It is basically the seamless amalgamation of the learning students do face-to-face with you and their peers and the learning they do online.

"blended learning graphic overview" flickr photo by jodieinblack https://flickr.com/photos/jodieinblack/29155993523 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

“blended learning graphic overview” flickr photo by jodieinblack https://flickr.com/photos/jodieinblack/29155993523 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

An online space for student learning is important, and providing this space is the foundation for blended learning. Our daily face-to-face activities are often complemented by an online space. For example, work and research networks are often created in face-to-face conferences, but they are maintained via an online broadcast and communication platform, such as Facebook and Twitter. In the same way, it is important for our students to have face-to-face spaces for learning and an online home.

For us as tutors, we are supporting our teaching with blended learning when we provide plenty of regular opportunities for students to engage with these online spaces outside of face-to-face teaching time with learning activities that allow students to self-regulate their understanding. It is important for the activities taking place in class to be referred to and support by the activities the students are engaging in in the online space. E-textbooks can support your endeavours to blend learning by providing texts and interactive activities. And for students studying Supply Chain Management here at Sussex University, they do.

An interactive e-textbook case study: Supply Chain Management

Dr Nachiappan Subramanian

Dr Nachiappan Subramanian

One of our own Sussex University academics has been employing an e-textbook to good effect. Dr. Nachiappan Subramanian is a Reader in Business & Management. Last year, Dr. Subramanian found the student cohort on his Supply Chain Management module to be largely passive in the way they received information and answered questions. This passivity was hard to overcome given the number of students doing the course. This year he still has a large cohort of almost two hundred and fifty students and his goal is to increase the students’ interactivity with the module content so they gain a deeper understanding of the issues.

In order to do so, he wanted to provide access for his students to an online space that would blend his face-to-face teaching with online activities that the students could do in their own time. Rather than attempting to design and create all the activities himself he looked for external help. The publisher McGraw-Hill Education introduced him to an interactive e-textbook on Supply Chain Management that he could use to meet his aims. The e-textbook provided readings, relevant case studies, weekly multiple choice questions, an online game and even lecture slides.

Dr. Subramanian adapted his teaching syllabus to blend his face-to-face teaching with the e-textbook readings, and learning activities. In any given week the students are expected to:

  1. Read a chapter from the e-textbook, including a case study that relates to the chapter’s content
  2. Have a face-to-face lecture, some of the slides of which came from the e-textbook presentation bank
  3. Do multiple choice questions (MCQs) (and sometimes essay questions) in the e-textbook
  4. Play the e-textbook’s online game, in which the students need to practice the operations required to own an apparel company and maximise profits
  5. Attend a two hour seminar of around thirty-five students where they are given a case study from the e-textbook, put into groups, and asked to consider and present on a particular question (different from the other groups) relating to the case study

The e-textbook MCQs provided the ability for students’ to self study and identify areas in which they could improve their understanding. The online game provided the opportunity to practice the application of the academic theories being presented through the module. He had to adapt his teaching content slightly because the case studies were mainly from the United States, but because the companies in the case studies were big and well known outside of the US, Dr. Subramanian did not feel this caused significant issues. In fact, Dr. Subramanian said that they were better than the ones used previously on the module. They could be used to practice many disciplinary skills, and they were also short which made them popular with the students.

The biggest improvement to Dr. Subramanian’s teaching resulted from his ability to track his students’ progress and to apply the learning analytics data that the e-textbook was able to collect to his teaching delivery. If students performed badly or didn’t do the MCQs or the online game, the tutor could identify this and email them with the click of a button. If there was a particular MCQ question that the students were getting wrong, or part of the online game that they were struggling with, the tutor could return to the topic again in his lectures.

I spoke to a around sixteen students about the module’s use of the e-textbook. They were overwhelmingly positive – many of them gushing praise on the support the e-textbook gave them and the way it was blended in to the complete teaching method. Student comments included:

“Nothing would top it”

“Very useful – it provides a lot of questions and it makes it easy for me to practice”

“I use it to revise and strengthen knowledge”

“I am able repeat stuff and over them multiple times”

“Brilliant for learning and revision”

“Excellent for going over my understanding”

“Amazing! So helpful. Much easier than a book”

In my interviews the students indicated that the MCQs were their favourite part of the e-textbook, which they described as easy-to-use and useful for consolidating their learning and reinforcing their knowledge. The online games which required them to make decisions based on supply chain scenarios was also praised. All of the students interviewed said that they would like other modules to use e-textbooks. The negative comments about the e-textbook were largely about access and, in particular, the fact that in order to access this e-textbook they needed to be online (have an internet connection).

The tutor himself said that the use of the e-textbook improved the quality of his working day and his job satisfaction because he could see that his students were engaged and were learning. He did warn, however, the blended learning model he had employed had significantly increased his workload.

Opportunities for Blended Learning in your teaching

If you use textbooks or want to support your teaching through blended learning there may be an e-textbook available that can support you, but be aware, just purchasing a e-textbook and making it available to your students isn’t blending your teaching. You need to embed the e-textbook in to your face-to-face teaching as well. The TEL team will be happy to talk to you further about this.

If you are interested in using e-textbooks or an e-textbook, speak to the TEL team (tel@sussex.ac.uk) who can provide you with information and support. You will also need to liaise with the Director of Teaching and Learning (DTL) for your school. The DTL will coordinate the purchase of e-textbooks for you and the rest of the school with the library.

The free alternative

Canvas logoThe VLE site provides the opportunity to provide a bespoke textbook for your module. On top of that the VLE activities store data on your student and there are opportunities to personalise the teaching to the needs of the individual student, just as the e-textbook has done for the students on the Supply Chain Management module. The great news is that Canvas, the new VLE coming to Sussex next year, will provide even more opportunities for you to do this, so if you haven’t already, book yourself into one of the Canvas Fundamentals workshops.


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Posted in Case Study, Learning Design, Mobile learning

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We are the Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) team at the University of Sussex. We publish posts each week on using technology to support teaching and learning. Read more about us.

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